March 28, 2011

Girly (1970)

(AKA Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly)

"A wealthy, fatherless British clan kidnaps bums and hippies and forces them to participate in an elaborate role-playing game in which they are the perfect family; those who refuse or attempt escape are ritualistically murdered."

I found this little gem by Freddie Francis on Netflix ages ago but finally got around to watching it this weekend inbetween "Chloe" and "9th Company" (both of which I also recommend). I'll be honest with you, I'd never even heard of "Girly" or its star, Vanessa Howard, before which probably has more to do with never seeing a VHS tape or DVD of it available than anything else. I don't think it was very heavily promoted when it came out, and I was a long way from being a viable human being back then anyway.

Having now watched it a couple of times over, I can see where a lot of more recent movies got their ideas from albeit in the form of various tropes, conventions and clich├ęs. Certainly, "Mum & Dad" (2008) borrowed heavily from the plot of "Girly" and did it so much that I'm glad that I haven't actually written a review of it yet which would have made me look like a complete idiot. I always thought that "Mum & Dad" was based on such mass murderers as Fred and Rosemary West, but I can now prove myself completely wrong. It's actually fun when something like that happens.

Anyway, "Girly" is basically about a "family" of absolute nutters who keep the roleplay going by sending out the "children" to bring back "new friends" who they can add to the mix.

You could also see "Girly" as a forerunner of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects" (2005) if you wanted to, but as I mentioned, the trope of a nutty killer family has been used ad nauseum in horror films. There are far too many similarities between Girly and Baby though for you not to notice. I honestly don't know if this has any more sinister allusions to '60s cults like "The Manson Family" or not, but I suspect that subject matter to have been influential at the time "Girly" was made. Without asking Freddie Francis himself, which obviously is impossible now, I don't think we'll ever know for sure.

Other big influences on "Girly" appear to be TV series like "The Prisoner" and "The Avengers", plus a ton of mod culture. It also has that Hammer/Amicus feel to it which is understandable considering once again who the director was, but it goes way offbeat into almost "A Clockwork Orange" craziness at times. The only things which prevent it from being a classic are that it really doesn't have any moral fable or message to it.

Looking back through that last paragraph makes it sound like "Girly" wasn't very original so I just need to redress the balance by stating that, as far as I know at this point in time, "Girly" was one of the most original films that I've seen. The only film that I think even comes close to this is "Twisted Nerve" (1968) starring Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett and, possibly, "Fright" (1971). There are in fact dozens of British horror movies from around this time period which I've never seen reworked into anything better although most of them are quite stagey and adapted from theatre productions. Sometimes it makes me want to restart my blog over and concentrate on that part of the genre, but I'd probably get bored with it long before I even managed to acquire all the films I wanted to watch in the first place.

You can probably tell already that I liked "Girly" a lot, and not just because Vanessa Howard ticked all the boxes for 1970s physical perfection. The character of Girly carries the film which is presumably why the original title was shortened. You also have to give the rest of the cast credit for doing all this so straightfaced especially Michael Bryant as "New Friend" who went on to win numerous acting awards and a CBE for his services to drama. When you combine such classy actors together with a top director then you are guaranteed a winner no matter how preposterous the script may be.

Yes, the story will really strain your willing suspension of disbelief. If you've ever seen Dennis Potter's "Blue Remembered Hills" (1979) then you'll be forgiven in the first ten minutes for wanting to switch "Girly" off straight away. I was quite embarrassed as a Brit to be watching this until it quickly became obvious that it wasn't going in the same direction as a Dennis Potter story would although, again, I could call up yet another one of his more famous works which has one specific moment which I could make much more of than I should especially in relation to "Girly". The film I'm talking about is "Brimstone and Treacle", but to say any more would give away a major spoiler and probably cause a whole wave of arguments. "Girly" is contrarily quite a feminist movie, but I'll leave that subject matter alone for all the essay writers to worry about.

Obviously "Girly" isn't a perfect film. There are massive plot holes, unexplainable actions and non-actions which you just accept because it's a film and you're allowing it to entertain you. As far as a horror film goes, "Girly" has very few onscreen gory moments, tension or scares, but it's all done in such a gleefully sadistic way that it's definitely not a comedy. I don't know quite how to categorise it at all except as demented and disturbing but with a sick sense of humour underlying it.

I'm quite happy to recommend "Girly" to anyone who likes crazy British films from the '70s. If you are into modern hardcore grisliness then I suggest you go for "Mum & Dad" instead. Either way, if you watch one then you should definitely check out the other to see how the same ideas and motifs can be reinterpreted for different generations.

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